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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Integrated Treatment of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Existing Wastewater Treatment Plants ─ Scoping the Potential of Foam Partitioning

Smith, Sanne; Keane, Chantal; Ahrens, Lutz; Wiberg, Karin


Foam fractionation is becoming increasingly popular as a treatment technology for water contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). At many existing wastewater treatment facilities, particularly in aerated treatment steps, foam formation is frequently observed. This study aimed to investigate if foam fractionation for the removal of PFAS could be integrated with such existing treatment processes. Influent, effluent, water under the foam, and foam were sampled from ten different wastewater treatment facilities where foam formation was observed. These samples were analyzed for the concentration of 29 PFAS, also after the total oxidizable precursor (TOP) assay. Enrichment factors were defined as the PFAS concentration in the foam divided by the PFAS concentration in the influent. Although foam partitioning did not lead to decreased ∑PFAS concentrations from influent to effluent in any of the plants, certain long-chain PFAS were removed with efficiencies up to 76%. Moreover, ∑PFAS enrichment factors in the foam ranged up to 105, and enrichment factors of individual PFAS ranged even up to 106. Moving bed biofilm reactors (MBBRs) were more effective at enriching PFAS in the foam than activated sludge processes. Altogether, these high enrichment factors demonstrate that foam partitioning in existing wastewater treatment plants is a promising option for integrated removal. Promoting foam formation and removing foam from the water surface with skimming devices may improve the removal efficiencies further. These findings have important implications for PFAS removal and sampling strategies at wastewater treatment plants.


per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances; wastewater treatment; foaming activated sludge; moving bed biofilm reactors

Published in

ACS ES&T engineering
2023, Volume: 3, number: 9, pages: 1276-1285